Best free iPad apps 2017

Townske seems to bill itself as an app akin to Foursquare – a place to find the best local cafes, restaurants, and sights in major cities. But really it’s more of a place where photo-bloggers can publish their unique take on amazing locations, thereby providing you with gorgeous photos and succinct chunks of writing to devour.

You can jump right into the main feed, or focus on a specific city. You then tap on a photo to open an individual story. Every one we tried was rich in superb imagery, with just enough text to add meaningful context without interrupting the flow of the visuals.

Neatly, you can tap a map icon to see where the various photos were all taken; and if you sign up for an account, favorite stories or individual images can be bookmarked for later. But even if you simply treat Townske as a regularly-updated lean-back digital take on a newspaper travel supplement, you can’t really go wrong.

  • iPad Air 2 review
  • iPad Mini 4 review
  • iPad Pro review
  • For a mix of free and paid apps, check out our amazing Best iPad apps chart or if you’re more into a smaller form-factor or have your eye on the iPhone 7 check out our list of the best free iPhone apps.
  • Haven’t bought an iPad yet and not sure which is best? We’ve got them listed on our best iPad ranking – or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now.
  • Are you a professional? Then our pick of the 10 best business apps should have something for you.

Boldomatic

Boldomatic comes across like a social network for people who like making bold statements – in bold colors and with bold text. Imagine Twitter, but with a chunky font, eye-searing backgrounds on every post, and a user base that’s perhaps a little too full of itself.

Which all sounds a bit unflattering, we’re sure, but Boldomatic is actually rather fun. You can zip through the feed to find random thoughts, tiny nuggets of philosophy, daft jokes, and little bits of poetry.

Fashioning your own slice of creative genius is simple, too: just type out your words, select a background color (or a photo), and share it with the world.

Boldomatic also works as a means to create content for elsewhere. Your creations can be hurled at Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, to share them with the wider world (or Photos, if you want to keep them just between you and your iPad).

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Adobe Acrobat Reader is a popular app on the desktop for viewing, annotating and signing PDFs. On iPad… well, it’s much the same, albeit with a reliance on cloud storage, and a nicely-designed touchscreen interface.

On importing a PDF from another app, Dropbox, or iCloud Drive, you can rearrange its pages, add a signature, slather the thing in comments, and highlight bits of text. If your document arrived from Adobe Scan, you can search the text, and select/copy some to paste elsewhere. Annoyingly, copying must be done manually – there’s no ‘grab all text’ option.

In the main, though, this is a friendly, usable app, and you get the bulk of its functionality for free, including the means to share edited PDFs with other apps. (IAP is mostly for converting PDFs to other formats for editing in the likes of Microsoft Word.)

Groovebox

Groovebox is a really clever app for anyone interested in making electronic music. The smartest bit is in the app being approachable for newcomers, yet offering power and features for seasoned noise makers.

The basics involve selecting a track type (drums, bass, or synth), and then a sound, whereupon Groovebox starts playing a loop. If you’re not happy with what you hear, tap the dice and Groovebox will spit out a different pattern.

Most apps of this ilk are samples-based, and so grind to a juddering halt at this point. But Groovebox goes further, offering a keyboard for live play, and a piano roll grid for tweaking a loop’s notes – or removing them all to add your own.

The lack of a song editor is a pity (you’re limited to 16-bar loops), and advanced instrument features sit behind various IAP. But for free, Groovebox offers plenty of head-nodding entertainment.

Pixel art editor – Dottable

Despite being lumbered with an awkward name, Pixel art editor – Dottable is a usable and nicely-conceived app. Choose a canvas size and then the interface is split between your drawing area, layers, and tools.

The basics are all there for creating old-school pixel art, but beyond brushes and fills, Dottable adds some fairly sophisticated shapes and transform tools.

If you want to trace an image, it can be imported, and optionally converted to pixel art form. Exports are also dealt with nicely, either exporting your image as a PNG, or converting each layer into a single frame of an animated GIF.

None of this is enough to trouble the pro-oriented Pixaki, but as a freebie for pixel artists, Dottable is mightily impressive.

Numbers

With Numbers, Apple managed to do something with spreadsheets that had eluded Microsoft in decades of Excel development: they became pleasant (even fun) to work with.

Instead of forcing workmanlike grids of data on you, Numbers has you think in a more presentation-oriented fashion. Although you can still create tables for totting up figures, you’re also encouraged to be creative and reader-friendly regarding layout, incorporating graphs, imagery, and text. On iPad, it’s all tap – and finger – friendly, too.

With broad feature-parity with the Mac version, iCloud sync, and export to Excel format, Numbers should also fit neatly into most people’s workflow.

And although updates robbed the app of some friendliness (whoever removed the date picker needs a stern talking to), it still excels in that department, from nicely designed templates through to the handy action menu, ensuring common tasks are only ever a tap away.

Pacemaker

There are quite a few DJ apps for iPad, but they mostly tend to make the assumption you’re a master of the decks already. With its bright colors, straightforward nature, and lack of a price tag, Pacemaker feels rather more approachable to the typical wannabe deck spinner.

You can mess about with demo tracks or load tunes from your iPhone and Spotify. Then it’s a case of messing around with virtual decks, sliders and buttons to crossfade, beat-match, and add effects. If you hit on something especially great, record your live performance and share it with your friends.

It’s worth noting the app does have IAP lurking, but that’s really only for people properly bitten by the bug. Splash out and you can grab new effects or a premium subscription for precision mixing. For free, though, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Workflow

Automation is something you’d usually associate more with a PC than an iPad, but Workflow, can perform strings of tasks on your behalf. This means instead of dipping in and out of several apps to do something complex, you can just tap a button.

The app’s gallery includes over 200 pre-made workflows, such as turning a web page into a PDF, creating an animated GIF, or finding the nearest coffee outlet. These can be saved to your Home screen as an app, to Workflow’s Today view widget, or even as a Share sheet action extension.

Should you want to construct a workflow of your own, you can do so using a straightforward drag-and-drop interface. During creation, workflows can be tested and each step tweaked until you’re happy.

Now Workflow’s owned by Apple, its future is a little unclear, but it’s also free, so you’ve no excuse not to delve in.

Pixify

On the iPhone, Prisma has become many people’s go-to app for transforming photos into tiny works of painterly art. Bafflingly, an iPad version of the app has yet to materialize, so fortunately Pixify is on hand to plug that particular gap.

In fact, in many ways Pixify is superior to Prisma. It has the same level of immediacy: load a photo and select what artwork you’d like it to resemble. But the app also provides a modicum of control over the output, in you being able to adjust brush sizes and how heavily the painterly style is applied.

The one downside on iPad is the final rendered image displays quite small on the screen. And even the $0.99/99p/AU$1.99 IAP, which unlocks higher-resolution artwork to export, doesn’t affect this oddity.

MediBang Paint

MediBang Paint feels like one of those apps where you’re always waiting for the catch to arrive. Create a new canvas and you end up staring at what can only be described as a simplified Photoshop on your iPad. There are loads of drawing tools, a layers system (including photo import), and configurable brushes.

Opening up menus reveals yet more features – rotation; shapes; grids – but palettes can also be hidden, so you can get on with just drawing. Judging by the in-app gallery of uploaded art, MediBang is popular with manga artists, but its tools are capable enough to support a much wider range of digital painting and drawing styles – all without costing you a penny.

Pixabay

If you often find yourself rooting around the web for images to use in projects, Google Images will do. But it can be tricky to know whether you have the rights to use whatever you download – and you very often don’t.

Pixabay does away with such concerns through its images being released under Creative Commons CC0. In plain English: you can do whatever you like with them.

The downside is the selection can be sparse for niche subjects, and quite a lot of the vector art is of poor quality. But for general imagery to add to a brochure or website when you’re lacking a budget for pictures, there are plenty of decent photographs to choose from, easily accessible from the app’s straightforward search.

Instapaper

Instapaper acts as a time-shifting service for the web. You can send pages to it from any browser (PC, Mac or mobile), whereupon Instapaper strips away everything bar the content. When you open the app, it’ll quickly sync your article collection. You can then read anything you’ve stored in a mobile-optimized layout that’s entirely free from cruft.

On an iPhone, Instapaper is handy for commuters wanting to catch up on saved pages while belting along on a train. But on iPad, the larger display transforms Instapaper into a superb lean-back reading experience – your own personal periodical that’s free from the gimmickry and iffy curation found in glossier fare, and that’s instead all about the content.

Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Although Photoshop started out as a tool for retouching imagery, plenty of people use it for creating art from scratch. It’s presumably that line of thinking that led to Adobe Photoshop Sketch, an iPad app that enables you to draw with virtual takes on ink, paint, pastel and markers.

The tools themselves are broadly impressive and configurable. You can adjust brushes in all kinds of ways, and then utilize blend modes and layers for complex art, and grids/stencils when more precision is needed.

Export feels a bit needlessly restrictive – you’re mostly forced to send drawings to Adobe’s Behance network – even Photos isn’t an option. 

Also, while tools work well individually, they don’t really interact, such as when dragging pen through a glob of paint. Still, for free, Adobe Photoshop Sketch gives you a lot – and even if you don’t use the app for finished art, it works (as its name suggests) as a pretty neat sketchpad.

Notebook

Although Apple’s Notes is far more capable than it used to be, it can feel a touch sterile. Notebook mirrors a lot of the functionality of Apple’s app, while injecting a touch more tactility and fun.

Your notes are grouped into little notebooks, which when opened display as a grid of sticky notes. Individual notes can have a bespoke background color and contain text, imagery, audio recordings, checkboxes, and scribbles. The drawing tools lack the ruler from Notes but offer far more colors and tooltip sizes. Back in the notebook, notes can be grouped and browsed through with subtle flicks.

Export is weak and sync rather annoyingly requires an account with the developer rather than iCloud; but for a freebie note-taker on a single iPad, Notebook fits the bill.

Adobe Illustrator Draw

On the desktop, Adobe Illustrator is more about enabling creative types to work up pin-sharp illustrative fare than freehand drawing. But on iPad, Adobe Illustrator Draw concentrates on doodling. You can experiment with five highly configurable brush tips, which feel great whether drawing with a stylus or a finger.

But dig deeper into the options and the professional sheen of this app becomes apparent. There are perspective grids, a layers system for mixing and matching artwork and imagery for tracing over, and stencils you temporarily overlay when extra precision is needed.

Completed images can be exported to Camera Roll or the clipboard, and Adobe Creative Cloud users can also send art to Photoshop or Illustrator with layers preserved.

A straightforward vector export option would be nice, although that’s perhaps too big an ask for a free app designed to suck you into a larger ecosystem.

Music Memos

It’s fair to say that Music Memos is primarily designed for the iPhone, enabling musicians to quickly capture a song idea, which can later be expanded on. But if you’re in a studio – home or otherwise – strumming away on a guitar, and with an iPad nearby, the app can help you compose your next chart-troubler on a much more user-friendly screen size.

You kick things off by tapping a circle in the middle of the screen, whereupon Music Memos starts recording. Tap again to stop. The app then attempts – with some degree of success – to transcribe the chords played, and enables you to overlay automated bass and drums.

It’s when tapping the audio waveform in the recordings list that the iPad’s value becomes clear – you get the whole screen to see your in-progress song, which is great for playing along with or when considering further tweaks. And with iCloud sync, you can always record on iPhone and peruse later on iPad.

Remixlive

Fancy creating a slice of dubstep, hip hop, or deep house? Largely bereft of musical talent (or just feeling a bit lazy)?

Don’t worry – Remixlive has you covered. Using the app, you select a genre (others are available via IAP – and some extras are even free), and then superstardom is just a case of triggering loops by tapping large colored pads.

The app’s pretty much idiot-proof – pads are labelled, everything’s always in time or in tune, and you can record your efforts by tapping a big REC button. Lovely.

But if you fancy going a bit further, the app’s happy to oblige: there’s a mixing desk for adjusting levels, live effects, and an editor to mix and match pads from different genre sets. Want to import/export your own sounds? Grab the relevant IAP ($5.99/£5.99/AU$9.99).

Attenborough Story of Life

If you’ve any interest in wildlife films, Attenborough Story of Life is a must-have. It features over a thousand clips picked from Attenborough’s decades-long journey through what he refers to as the “greatest story of all…how animals and plants came to fill our Earth”.

The app is split into three sections. You’re initially urged to delve into some featured collections, but can also explore by habitat or species, unearthing everything from big-toothed sharks to tiny penguins skittering about. Clips can be saved as favorites, or grouped into custom collections to later peruse or share with friends.

Some of the footage is noticeably low-res on an iPad – there’s nothing here to concern your Blu-Rays, and that’s a pity. Still, for instant access to such a wealth of amazing programming, this one’s not to be missed.

Fingerpaint Magic

The iPad and App Store combine to create an extremely strong ecosystem when it comes to art apps, but that’s not terribly helpful if you don’t have an artistic bone in your body.

Fortunately, there are apps like Fingerpaint Magic that enable a much wider range of people to create something visually stunning.

As you draw, feathers of color explode from your fingertip, bleeding into the background in a manner that feels like you’re drawing with an alien material atop viscous liquid. You can adjust your brush and color – ‘neon’ from the former coming across like sketching with fire.

Artwork can be further enhanced using mirrors or background filters prior to export. The process is at once aesthetically pleasing, fun and relaxing.

A single $0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49 IAP unlocks a set of premium brushes, but Fingerpaint Magic’s free incarnation has more than enough to unleash your inner artist, regardless of your skill level.

MuseCam

The App Store’s awash with alternate cameras with editing smarts, but MuseCam warrants a place on your iPad’s home screen nonetheless. As a camera, it’s fine, with an on-screen grid and plenty of manual settings. But on Apple’s tablet, it’s in editing that MuseCam excels.

Load a photo and you can apply a film-inspired filter preset (based on insight from pro photographers), or fiddle around with tone curves, color tools, and other adjustment settings.

The interface is bold, efficient, and usable, making it accessible to relative newcomers; but there’s also enough depth here to please those wanting a bit more control, including the option to save tweaks as custom presets.

IAP comes in the form of additional filters, but what you get for free is generous and of a very high quality, making MuseCam a no-brainer download.
 

Slash Keyboard

Slash Keyboard is a custom iPad keyboard that makes sharing online content easier. Tap the slash key for a list of commands, which you can filter by typing a letter or two, and then enter search terms and prod a result to insert it into a document.

This makes it a cinch to quickly find and add links (Wikipedia articles; SoundCloud songs; App Store products; and so on) to notes, documents and social media posts. Additionally, Slash Keyboard speeds up typing with gestural single-finger scribbles in a manner similar to Swype and SwiftKey.

It’s not a perfect app by any means, as links are US-focused and sometimes use a proprietary link shortener rather than giving you the entire URL. Also, long-pressing the top row of letters cuts off the menu displaying related special characters.

But Slash’s usefulness counters such drawbacks, and it’s at the very least worth considering as an occasional alternate keyboard when wanting to link to a bunch of things you’ve found online.
 

iTunes Movie Trailers

People grumble that the iPad’s 4:3 display is sub-optimal for watching television (even though it’s way better than 16:9 for almost everything else), but we still think it’s a great device for catching up on shows or enjoying the latest movie. And with iTunes Movie Trailers, film buffs can check out what’s coming in cinemas.

The main interface is a bunch of featured film posters. You can filter these by genre, search for something specific, or explore the charts. Tap a film and you get a giant splash of art, an overview, and access to available teasers and trailers.

The result is an uncomplicated app that’s perfect for sitting back with your iPad and gorging your eyes on the best upcoming filmmaking around, and when you find a movie you’d like to see in full you can share it to email, Notes, or the app’s built-in Favorites list.
 

Melodist

Part meditative relaxation tool, part sleep aid, Melodist is all about creating melodies from imagery. All you have to do is load something from your Camera Roll, and the app does the rest.

On analyzing your photo or screen grab for changes in hues, saturation and brightness, a music loop is generated. You can adjust the playback speed, instrument and visual effect (which starts off as a lazily scrolling piano roll), along with setting a timer.

Although occasionally discordant, the app mostly creates very pleasing sounds. And while it’s perhaps missing a trick in not displaying your photo as-is underneath the notes being played (your image is instead heavily blurred as a background), you can export each tune as audio or a video that shows the picture alongside the animation.

These free exports are a pretty generous gesture by the developer; if you want to return the favor, there’s affordable IAP for extra sounds, animation and MIDI export.

Notes on Blindness VR

After years of eyesight deterioration, John Hull became blind in 1983. Notes on Blindness VR has six chapters taken from his journal of the time. Each is set in a specific location, marrying John’s narrative, binaural audio, and real-time 3D animation, to create an immersive experience of a ‘world beyond sight’.

Although designed as a VR experience, this app remains effective when holding an iPad in front of your face, moving the screen about to scan your surroundings. The mood shifts throughout – there’s wonder in a blind John’s discovery of the beauty of rain, disconnection when he finds things ‘disappear’ from the world when sound stops, and a harrowing section on panic.

Towards the end, John mulls he’s “starting to understand what it’s like to be blind,” and you may get a sense of what it’s like, too, from the app, which ably showcases how to craft an engaging screen-based experience beyond the confines of television.

Auxy Music Studio

The thinking behind Auxy Music Studio is that music-making – both in the real world and software – has become too complicated. This app therefore strives to combine the immediacy of something like Novation Launchpad’s loop triggers with a basic piano roll editor.

For each instrument, you choose between drums and decidedly electronic synths. You then compose loops of between one and four bars, tapping out notes on the piano roll’s grid. Subsequent playback occurs on the overview screen by tapping loops to cue them up.

For those who want to go a bit further, the app includes arrangement functionality (for composing entire songs), along with Ableton Link and MIDI export support. Auxy’s therefore worth a look for relative newcomers to making music and also pros after a no-nonsense scratchpad.

Canva

The idea behind Canva is to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating great-looking layouts based on your photos. Select a layout type (presentation, blog graphic, invitation, and so on) and the app serves up templates to work with.

These are mostly very smart indeed, but the smartest thing about Canva is that these starting points can all be edited: swap out images for your own photos, adjust text boxes, and add new elements or even entire pages.

Because of its scope, Canva isn’t as immediate as one-click automated apps in this space, but the interface is intuitive enough to quickly grasp. Our only niggle is the lack of multi-item selection, but with Canva being an online service, you can always fine-tune your iPad creations in a browser on the desktop.

Splice

Between quickly trimming a video in Photos and immersing yourself in the likes of iMovie sits Splice. This is a free video editor that on the surface looks accessible – even simplistic – but that offers surprising depth for those who need it.

To get started, you import a bunch of clips. These can be reordered, and you can for each choose a transition if you don’t want standard crossfades. Access an individual clip and a whole host of additional tools becomes available, including text overlays, speed adjustment, and animation effects. It’s also possible to layer multiple audio files, including on-board music and narration.

For more demanding wannabe directors, Splice might still not be enough – in which case, head towards a more powerful product like Pinnacle Studio Pro or iMovie. But for everyone else, it really hits that sweet spot in being straightforward, approachable, and powerful.

Quik

Formerly known as Replay, Quik is a video editor primarily designed for people who can’t be bothered doing the editing bit. You select photos and videos, pick a theme, and sit back as Quik pieces together a masterpiece that can subsequently be saved and shared.

For tinkerers, there are styles and settings to tweak. Post-Replay, the app offers its 28 varied styles for free, and you can delve into the edit itself, trimming clips, reordering media, adjusting focal points, and adding titles.

Alternatively, the really lazy can do nothing at all and still get results – every week, Quik will serve up highlights videos, enabling you to relive favorite moments. These videos are quite random in nature, but are nonetheless often a nice surprise. Still, anyone willing to put in the slightest additional effort will find Quik rewards any minutes invested many times over.

Remote

We’ve always found the Remote app a bit of an oddball. On the one hand, it’s sort of iTunes for iPad, streaming your Mac or PC’s library to your device. On the other, it’s also a means of controlling an Apple TV.

In the former case, it’s fine, if a bit slow to load large libraries. Still, the interface is in many ways superior to Music’s, which now seems determined to sideline anything that isn’t Apple Music.

As for controlling an Apple TV with a massive glass-screened tablet, that might seem ridiculous until you’ve grappled with the Siri Remote. After that point, you’ll be glad to have Remote installed, enabling you to navigate your Apple TV and quickly input passwords, rather than getting frustrated to the point of wanting to hurl everything you’ve ever bought from Apple into the heart of the sun.

Vimo

It says something that what once required a powerful desktop computer and a copy of something like After Effects can now be achieved using a freebie app on your iPad. With Vimo, you load a video and can add to it a bunch of animated effects and ‘motion stickers’.

What makes this app all the more impressive is the level of control it affords. You’re not limited to some kind of canned wiggly motion that doesn’t fit your video. Instead, you drag across the timeline to play through your video and can at any point pause to rotate and move placed stickers. Vimo then figures out all the complicated bits — paths, keyframes, and so on — before you share your creation with friends.

There’s IAP to remove an (unobtrusive) Vimo watermark and buy new stickers, but the free app includes plenty of content to make even the dullest home video a bit more animated and a lot more fun.

Photofy

Although Photofy includes a decent range of tools for performing typical edits on photos – including adjustments, cropping, saturation, and the like – this app is more interested in helping you get properly creative.

Within the photo editing tools are options for adding in-vogue blurs and producing collages; and in ‘Text & Overlays’, you’ll find a wealth of options for slapping all kinds of artwork and text on top of your photographic masterpieces.

The interface works well through bold, tappable buttons and chunky sliders (although it takes a while to realise the pane containing the latter can be scrolled). And although some filters and stickers require IAP to unlock, there’s loads available here entirely for free. (Also, Photofy rather pleasingly gives you alternatives for its watermark, if you don’t want to pay to remove it, but aren’t too keen on the default. Nice.)

Novation Launchpad

GarageBand offers a loop player, but Novation Launchpad was doing this kind of thing years before, and in a manner that’s so intuitive and simple that even a toddler could record a track. (We know — ours did.)

The app comprises a set of pads, where you choose a genre, tap pads, and they keep playing until you tap something else in the same group. Performances can be recorded, and you can also mess about with effects to radically change the output of what you’re playing.

Whether you’re a musician or not, Launchpad is a great app for making a noise. And if you fancy something a bit more unique than the built-in sounds, there’s a $6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99 in-app purchase that lets you import your own samples.

Google Maps

You might argue that Google Maps is far better suited to a smartphone, but we reckon the king of mapping apps deserves a place on your iPad, too.

Apple’s own Maps app has improved, but Google still outsmarts its rival when it comes to public transport, finding local businesses, saving chunks of maps offline, and virtual tourism by way of Street View.

Google’s ‘OS within an OS’ also affords a certain amount of cross-device sync when it comes to searches. We don’t, however, recommend you strap your cellular iPad to your steering wheel and use Google Maps as a sat-nav replacement, unless you want to come across as some kind of nutcase.

Pigment

Adult colouring books are all the rage, proponents claiming bringing colour to intricate abstract shapes helps reduce stress – at least until you realise you’ve got pen on your shirt and ground oil pastels into the sofa.

You’d think the process of colouring would be ideal for iPad, but most relevant apps are awful, some even forcing tap-to-fill. That is to colouring what using a motorbike is to running a marathon – a big cheat. Pigment is an exception, marrying a love for colouring with serious digital smarts.

On selecting an illustration, there’s a range of palettes and tools to explore. You can use pencils and markers, adjusting opacity and brush sizes, and work with subtle gradients. Colouring can be ‘freestyle’, or you can tap to select an area and ensure you don’t go over the lines while furiously scribbling. With a finger, Pigment works well, but it’s better with a stylus; with an iPad Pro and a Pencil, you’ll lob your real books in the bin.

The one niggle: printing and accessing the larger library requires a subscription in-app purchase. It’s a pity there’s no one-off payment for individual books, but you do get plenty of free illustrations, and so it’s hard to grumble.

LiquidText

There are loads of iPad apps for reading and annotating PDFs, but LiquidText is different. Rather than purely aping paper, the developers have thought about the advantages of working with virtual documents.

So while you still get a typical page view, you can pinch to collapse passages you’re not interested in and also compare those that aren’t adjacent.

There’s a ‘focus’ view that shows only annotated sections, and you can even select chunks of text and drag them to the sidebar. Tap one of those cut-outs at a later point and its location will instantly be displayed in the main text. Smartly, you can save any document in the app’s native format, export it as a PDF with comments, or share just the notes as an RTF.

Slack

We’re not sure whether Slack is an amazing aid to productivity or some kind of time vampire. Probably a bit of both. What we do know is that the real-time messaging system is excellent in a work environment for chatting with colleagues (publicly and privately), sharing and previewing files, and organising discussions by topic.

There’s smart integration with online services, and support for both the iPad Pro and the iPad’s Split View function.

Note that although Slack is clearly designed with businesses in mind, it also works perfectly well as a means of communicating with friends if you don’t fancy lobbing all your worldly wisdom into Facebook’s maw.

Animatic

The prospect of drawing can fill people with terror, and so the idea of animation probably sends such folks fleeing for the hills. Animatic might calm their nerves, being the friendly face of iPad animation. Start a new project and you get a small canvas and a bunch of effective and broadly realistic tools – markers, crayons, pencils, biros – for scribbling with.

Once you’ve composed a frame, Animatic makes use of traditional ‘onion skinning’ techniques to help you produce smooth motion thereafter: up to three previous frames are shown in translucent fashion behind the one you’re currently drawing. Tap ‘Next’ and you’ll see your animation looping. Its speed can be adjusted, and you can export to video or GIF.

Beyond Animatic’s approachable nature, we’re big fans of its flexibility. You simply return to the main ‘My Animations’ screen to save (which we recommend doing often with lengthy projects, because a crash can take work with it), and can later edit any frame from any animation – nothing’s fixed forever.

And while, as the bundled examples suggest, you’re more likely to end up with Roobarb and Custard than Pixar’s finest, Animatic is a superb way to explore making drawings move – entirely for free.

TunnelBear

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are becoming very popular, due to issues people increasingly face when browsing the web. A VPN can be used to circumvent region-blocking/censorship and security issues on public Wi-Fi. Such services can baffle people who aren’t technically adept, but TunnelBear is all about the friendlier side of VPNs. With bears.

After installing the app and profile, you’ll have 500 MB of data per month to play with. That said, TunnelBear’s exclusive TechRadar plan offers a far more generous 5GB, 10 times the amount you get if you sign elsewhere. 

Tunnelling to a specific location is simply a case of tapping it on the map and waiting a few seconds for the bear to pop out of the ground.

Tweet about the product and you’ll get an extra free GB. Alternatively, monthly and annual paid plans exist for heavier data users.

Duolingo

We’re big fans of Duolingo on iPhone. Its bite-size exercises are perfect for quickly dipping into, when you’ve a spare moment to tackle a bit of language-learning. On iPad, the app is basically the same, and the screen’s relative acres make everything feel a touch sparse.

However, Duolingo remains the same impressive and approachable app, and the iPad’s form-factor lends itself to more extended sessions, which is great for when you want to properly crack the next challenge the app throws your way.

As ever, we remain baffled that this app remains entirely free. We’ve yet to find the catch.

Khan Academy

Maybe it’s just our tech-addled brains, but often we find it a lot easier to focus on an app than a book, which can make learning things the old fashioned way tricky. That’s where Khan Academy comes in. This free app contains lessons and guidance on dozens of subjects, from algebra, to cosmology, to computer science and beyond.

As it’s an app rather than a book it benefits from videos and even a few interactive elements, alongside words and pictures and it contains over 10,000 videos and explanations in all.

Everything is broken in to bite-sized chunks, so whether you’ve got a few minutes to spare or a whole afternoon there’s always time to learn something new and if you make an account it will keep track of your progress and award achievements.

Microsoft Word

It’s not like Microsoft Word really needs introduction. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that itself is under a pretty sizeable rock, you’ll have heard of Microsoft’s hugely popular word processor. What you might not realize, though, is how good it is on iPad.

Fire up the app and you’re greeted with a selection of handy templates, although you can of course instead use a blank canvas. You then work with something approximating the desktop version of Word, but that’s been carefully optimized for tablets. Your brain keeps arguing it shouldn’t exist, but it does — although things are a bit fiddly on an iPad mini.

Wisely, saved documents can be stored locally rather than you being forced to use Microsoft’s cloud, and they can be shared via email. (A PDF option exists for recipients without Office, although it’s oddly hidden behind the share button in the document toolbar, under ‘Send Attachment’, which may as well have been called ‘beware of the leopard’.)

Something else that’s also missing: full iPad Pro 12.9 support in the free version. On a smaller iPad, you merely need a Microsoft account to gain access to most features. Some advanced stuff — section breaks; columns; tracking changes; insertion of WordArt — requires an Office 365 account, but that won’t limit most users.

Presumably, Microsoft thinks iPad Pro owners have money to burn, though, because for free they just get a viewer. Bah.

Kitchen Stories

As you launch Kitchen Stories, you catch a glimpse of the app’s mantra: “Anyone can cook”. The problem is, most cooking apps (and indeed, traditional cookery books) make assumptions regarding people’s abilities.

Faced with a list of steps on a stark white page, it’s easy to get halfway through a recipe, look at the stodge in front of you, reason something must have gone terribly wrong, and order a takeaway.

Kitchen Stories offers firmer footing. You’re first met with a wall of gorgeous photography. More importantly, the photographs don’t stop.

Every step in a recipe is accompanied by a picture that shows how things should be at that point. Additionally, some recipes provide tutorial videos for potentially tricky skills and techniques. Fancy some Vietnamese pho, but not sure how to peel ginger, prepare a chilli or thinly slice meat? Kitchen Stories has you covered.

Beyond this, there’s a shopping list, handy essentials guide, and some magazine-style articles to peruse. And while you don’t get the sheer range of recipes found in some rival apps, the presentation more than makes up for that — especially on the iPad, which will likely find a new home in your own kitchen soon after Kitchen Stories is installed.

Opera Coast

Safari’s embedded in iOS to the extent that there’s not a great deal of point in using any rival browser by default. But that doesn’t mean alternatives shouldn’t be considered at all.

Opera Coast is a case in point. The browser’s bookmarks pages house massive icons, and its search is fast and to the point.

With an interface that’s helpful and yet stays out of your way, Opera Coast therefore becomes an excellent lean-back browser for key sites you like to spend a lot of time with, leaving Safari for hum-drum day-to-day web browsing.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a great service for syncing documents across multiple devices, and chances are you’re familiar with it already. On the iPad, we used to consider Dropbox essential as a kind of surrogate file system.

Even now that Apple’s provided easier access to iCloud Drive, Dropbox remains a useful install, largely on the basis of its widespread support (both in terms of platforms and also iOS apps).

The Dropbox app itself works nicely, too, able to preview a large number of file types, and integrating well with iOS for sending documents to and from the various apps you have installed.

YouTube

When the YouTube app presumably became a victim of the ongoing and increasingly tedious Apple/Google spat, there were concerns Google wouldn’t respond.

Those turned out to be unfounded, because here’s yet another bespoke, nicely designed Google-created app for iOS. The interface is specifically tuned for the iPad, and AirPlay enables you to fire videos at an Apple TV.

Movies by Flixster

One for film buffs, Movies figures out where you are and tells you what’s showing in your local cinemas – or you can pick a film and it’ll tell you where and when it’s on.

This is a great case of an app that does something simple and useful, and that does it very well. Instead of combing through listings across various websites, everything’s there in a single app. You can also watch trailers, rate whatever you’ve seen, and add to a list anything you fancy checking out.

eBay

Although you get the sense eBay’s designers can’t get through a month without redesigning their app, it’s always far superior to using the online auction site in a browser.

eBay for iOS works especially well on an iPad, with images looking great on the larger screen, and browsing proving fast and efficient. Speedy sorting and filtering options also make it a cinch to get to listings for whatever it is you fancy buying.

SkyView Free

SkyView Free is a stargazing app that very much wants you to get off your behind and outside, or at least hold your iPad aloft to explore the heavens.

Unlike TechRadar favourite Sky Guide, there’s no means to drag a finger to manually move the sky around – you must always point your iPad’s display where you want to look – but there’s no price-tag either. And for free, this app does the business.

There are minimal ads, a noodly atmospheric soundtrack, an optional augmented reality view (to overlay app graphics on to the actual sky), and a handy search that’ll point you in the direction of Mars, Ursa Major, or the International Space Station.

WordPress

This official WordPress app has a reputation for being a bit clunky, but it’s fine for authoring the odd blog post on the go, along with making quick edits to existing content and managing comments. It also offers both text-based and visual approaches to crafting posts, so you’re not stuck with HTML.

Find My Friends

While perhaps less practical than on the iPhone, Find My Friends on the iPad nonetheless works well, enabling you to track any pals that are happy with you digitally stalking them. The iPad’s large display improves the app’s usability, simultaneously displaying your friend list and a map.

TED

TED describes itself as “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”. The app pretty much does as you’d expect – you get quick access to dozens of inspiring videos. However, it goes the extra mile in enabling you to save any talk for offline viewing, and also for providing hints on what to watch next if you’ve enjoyed a particular talk.

Autodesk SketchBook

We tend to quickly shift children from finger-painting to using much finer tools, but the iPad shows there’s plenty of power in your digits — if you’re using the right app.

Autodesk SketchBook provides all the tools you need for digital sketching, from basic doodles through to intricate and painterly masterpieces; and if you’re wanting to share your technique, you can even time-lapse record to save drawing sessions to your camera roll. The core app is free, but it will cost you $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 to unlock the pro features.

XE Currency

It’s as ugly as they come, but XE Currency is the best free currency app you’ll find. You define which currencies you want to see, along with the number of decimals to show. Double-tap a currency and you can set it as the base currency by tapping 1.0 in the calculator, or do bespoke conversions by typing any other value.

iTunes U

If you’re still convinced the iPad is only a device for staring brain-dead at TV shows and not a practical tool for education, check out iTunes U. The app enables you to access many thousands of free lectures and courses taught by universities and colleges, thereby learning far more than what bizarre schemes current soap characters are hatching.

For instructors, it’s similarly a boon, enabling them to build lessons, collect and grade assignments, and have one-to-one or group discussions. It’s also an app that gels well with Apple’s modern design sensibilities, the interface getting out of the way and letting content shine through.

Quark DesignPad

One for the graphic designers out there, desktop publishing giant Quark’s DesignPad is an astonishingly useful app for figuring out layouts on the move, or knocking about ideas in meetings. Plenty of ready-made documents can give you a head-start, and your finished work can be exported as a PNG or emailed for use in a QuarkXPress document.

Snapseed

Apple’s Photos app has editing capabilities, but they’re not terribly exciting — especially when compared to Snapseed. Here, you select from a number of from a number of tools and filters, and proceed to pinch and swipe your way to a transformed image. You get all the basics — cropping, rotation, healing brushes, and the like — but the filters are where you can get really creative.

There are blurs, photographic effects, and more extreme options like ‘grunge’ and ‘grainy film’, which can add plenty of atmosphere to your photographs. The vast majority of effects are tweakable, mostly by dragging up and down on the canvas to select a parameter and then horizontally to adjust its strength.

Brilliantly, the app also records applied effects as separate layers, each of which remains fully editable until you decide to save your image and work on something else.

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